BHA welcomes Government move towards relationships and sex education in all English schools; expresses concerns about opt-outs for ‘faith’ schools

1 March, 2017

Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening has today announced the change.

Following on from decades of campaigning by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and others, the UK Government has today announced that it is making relationships and sex education (RSE), renamed from sex and relationships education, compulsory in all English secondary schools, and relationships education compulsory in primaries. However, it has also said that ‘as now, faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith’. The BHA has welcomed the announcement as a first step in the right direction, but emphasised the need for all pupils to receive the full, comprehensive, and age-appropriate RSE to which they should be entitled.

The Government is also giving itself the power to extend this to personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), if it later decides to do so, without the need for further consent from Parliament. The change is being made through an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, and new regulations and updated guidance will be produced to go alongside it.

The BHA met with the Department for Education last week to push for the changes, and for several months now has been working with a close coalition of other charities towards securing compulsory personal, social, health, and economic education (PSHE) and SRE by way of an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill. This includes the Sex Education Forum, PSHE Association, Terrence Higgins Trust, National Children’s Bureau, Barnardo’s, NSPCC, Stonewall, and Plan UK.

Last month the BHA also published a landmark report, Healthy, happy, safe? An investigation into how PSHE and SRE are inspected in English schools, which revealed that Ofsted has been ‘almost totally neglecting’ SRE and PSHE in school inspections. SRE and PSHE were mentioned in fewer Ofsted reports for the 2015/16 academic year than all other established subjects. This is despite the fact that the Government had frequently said that Ofsted inspections alone are sufficient in ensuring that schools teach SRE and PSHE properly. In light of the findings, the BHA recommended full, comprehensive, and age-appropriate PSHE and SRE be made compulsory in all schools.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘All the available evidence points to comprehensive, age-appropriate, and fully inclusive relationships and sex education leading to the best outcomes for young people in terms of ensuring relationships are healthy, happy, and consensual, preventing unwanted pregnancies, and reducing STIs. We welcome the fact that the Government is now taking a first step towards recognising this in law. But it is essential that teaching in all schools is as comprehensive and inclusive of all pupils as possible, and we are concerned that this may well not be the case.’

‘It is vital that any new requirements are extended to religious schools. A child’s access to accurate, evidence-based, and relevant information, designed for the simple purpose of keeping them safe, should not be dependent on their religious or non-religious background, nor on the type of school to which they happen to have been sent. It should be clear to everyone that either all children have a right to this education, or no such right exists.’


For further comment or information please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 7324 3072/020 3675 0959.

Read Education Secretary Justine Greening’s written ministerial statement:

Read the BHA’s previous story, ‘Major new BHA report: school inspections ‘almost totally neglect’ PSHE and SRE’:

Read the BHA’s report, Healthy, happy, safe? An investigation into how PSHE and SRE are inspected in English schools:

Read more about the BHA’s work on PSHE and SRE:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

The BHA is a member of the Sex Education Forum (SEF) and PSHE Association and sits on SEF’s advisory group.